Author: MJ
Title: "The Stars in Their Courses"
Feedback: MJR91@aol.com
Fandom: XF
Pairing: M/Sk
Rating: PG-13
Archive: ArchiveX, Allslash -- YES; any Skinner archive that wants to ask, anyone else that wants to ask. GOSSAMER: YES
Spoilers: Avatar
Summary: Sharon Skinner, post-divorce, finds out about Walter's current romantic interest.


"The Stars in Their Courses"
by MJ

It's true love because
When he went to San Francisco on business while I
       had to stay home with the painters and the
       exterminator and the baby who was getting the
       chicken pox,
He understood why I hated him,
And because
When I said that playing the stock market was
       juvenile and irresponsible and then the stock I
      wouldn't let him buy went up twenty-six points,
I understood why he hated me,
And because
Despite cigarette cough, tooth decay, acid
       indigestion, dandruff, and other features of
      married life that tend to dampen the fires of
      passion,
We can still feel something
We can call
True love.
                 -- From "True Love", Judith Viorst

Wives. Last to know. Are those two things that go together, or not? Give me some credit, though; I'm not entirely stupid. I mean, I have my bachelor's from Wellesley, a Master's in Art History from Northwestern, I write copy for exhibitions at the National Gallery. The pay stinks, but museum work was what I always wanted, and how many people can say that they do what they always wanted to do? So I know I have a brain, and a reasonably good one. Stupid, never.

Negligent, maybe. Blind, yes, but I made that choice. I think wives like to be blind. The truth is usually too unpleasant. That's why I like medieval art, why I like iconography. I know the real world's an ugly place, and that very good people do very ugly things. Give me Russian icons, though, and I can forget, I can hide from the facts. I can play ostrich. I like to hide behind beauty, rather than bury my face in the sand.

I don't hate Walter, honestly. I've never hated Walter. I understood, maybe too well. And I played ostrich so I didn't have to know anything ugly. It worked for nearly seventeen years, didn't it?

I never let myself believe that he wasn't faithful. I knew better, of course. I knew other Bureau wives in the towns we lived in -- Chicago, Reno, Kansas City... what our husbands did when they were away on cases, any of us could guess and a few actually knew or discovered. I never discovered, so I could let myself believe that nothing ever went on. I'm sure, for instance, about his secretary when he was SAC in Reno. But I didn't have proof and I didn't want proof, and he always came home. He never showed up at eleven at night without calling, never had perfume or lipstick on his clothes, never left a motel key he shouldn't have had, never had suspicious charges for flowers or jewelry. I could have wasted time and energy suspecting, or guessing, but it would have been unpleasant and nerve-racking, and not worth it.

We started growing apart after a while. Couples do that, all too often. He had the Bureau for his real love, and me to keep house, throw dinner parties when Assistant Directors visited, and to be a trophy. My father had been a two-term congressman from his district, and my mother's family was Mayflower stock. I looked nice at the country club on Saturday nights, and I worked at some museum or another wherever we lived at the time. My mother's life had been very similar; I did what she did, with more of a career. She was a volunteer; I was always paid -- as an assistant curator, a restorer, the public events coordinator at the museum, whatever. My parents grew apart; my father lived for his firm, and my mother for the Red Cross and the Humane Society. As far as I could tell, my marriage was right on track with my parents'.

I suppose if we'd had children, things might have been different. But we stopped trying after my second miscarriage, and then we finally quit having sex entirely. That happens, too, you know. My parents stopped having sex after they'd been married around ten years. Of course, the fact that they didn't believe in birth control had something to do with that; I was one of five. My mother was exhausted. She never regretted giving it up, she told me once.

I said "we" quit having sex. I'm sure Walter was still getting it somewhere. And I'm not a saint, and there are a lot of really lovely men in museum work... some of whom, I can tell you, are quite definitely heterosexual.

That reminds me, of course. I've worked with any number of gay men, plenty of bisexual men. This is the art business. Museums, galleries, private collectors... I was surprised at first that any of the men I met at work were straight. I worked with the AIDS Coalition chairman in Kansas City; one of the curators at my museum, he was HIV positive himself, and his lover had already died. I did volunteer work with the coalition; I went to the parties and the fund-raisers. Walter didn't mind going with me sometimes when he was in town, but I think I'd have noticed if he'd been looking... and I know he turned down the offers he got when we were at some of those events. I know he got offers -- they used to hit on him like ants on a picnic at those things, sometimes with me standing right there, and he'd just smile and introduce me.

Of course, now I wonder if I missed something that should have been right in front of my face back then. Maybe nothing actually happened at all, or he was just being good in front of me. After all, he'd never let me catch him with anything that would have indicated he was seeing any women, so he might just have been equally cautious about anything in the other department. But I'm trying to convince myself that I should have been able to tell that this was coming.

The divorce? There just wasn't anything there any more holding us together. It wasn't that I didn't love him any more, you know, and we'd always gotten on perfectly well. But there was less and less of an "us". We weren't a couple any more. We lived under the same roof when Walter wasn't traveling. We had actual conversations when we were together -- but about Civil Service matters, politics, things outside of us. We were very, very good friends. But that was it. You love your friends, but it cuts off at some point, and we had that cutoff -- no sex, nothing deeply personal, no shared secrets anymore. And at the time, Paul was still working here in town, over at the Freer, and I thought that it might go somewhere... which it didn't. *He* went somewhere, in fact: London. And didn't even bother telling me, the bastard. I admit, Walter would never have done that, ever.

It's funny; I think Walter and I are closer since we got the divorce. We go out to dinner once a month or so; every so often, one of us will call the other and we'll go out to the movies, have a couple of drinks. We actually talk about personal problems some, or at least he lets me bounce things off of him. He helped me move to my new apartment, he and one of his agents that I knew, Fox Mulder. He's come by a few times when I've needed him to fix something; he worries if I can get along all right living alone. Actually, when Paul cleared out of town without telling me, a month after the divorce was final, and Walter found me crying about it, I nearly thought he was going to be on the next flight to London to go 'round to the Albert and Victoria to demand satisfaction. I'm sure he'd let down whomever he'd seen on the side when we were married more graciously than Paul did me.

Walter called me last week; asked me if I wanted to do dinner this past Friday night. He suggested the JW Marriott, which I thought was interesting; I'd heard that their restaurant had gotten a new chef. There had been a big write-up in the Post about what he was doing with venison. Walter likes good food, but he doesn't pay much attention to its being dreadfully fancy; give him a Delmonico steak, or a lasagna -- he makes a mean lasagna himself, by the way; I miss it -- or almost anything with shrimp, and he's happy. Throw in a vodka martini, and he'll think he's died and gone to heaven. I figured the choice was for my benefit, because I used to take gourmet cooking classes. Walter thought gourmet meant anything a maitre d' served tableside in a chafing dish when I met him. He'd prefer Ruth's Chris steakhouse or Phillips' seafood restaurant down on Maine Avenue. Anyway, the Marriott's also fairly well situated from both of our offices, so it was easy to get there after work on a Friday.

We met up at the lobby bar. Walter was already there, working on the martini, which told me that steak had to be on the menu. He's predictable about certain things, and one of them is that martinis go before steak, rice pilaf, and Caesar salad. If he orders wine with the steak, it will be a Burgundy, not Bordeaux, not Merlot, not Cabernet. I took a cab over, so I was lugging a briefcase full of copy for the Manet exhibition; he stood, kissed me on the cheek, took the briefcase, ordered me a vodka and tonic. He can do all of that in one motion; it's an art form. Then he told me he had a friend who was working late at the office, but wanted to stop by for dessert and after-dinner drinks

"Anyone I know?" We haven't been divorced that long, and Walter's list of friends isn't that lengthy; he's not a social animal.

"I think so. He and his partner were planning to eat dinner in the office over a report they're trying to finish tonight."

I knew how that went; Walter used to do the same thing. If you finish it late Friday night, you don't ruin Saturday. I've done it myself at the National Gallery, but this weekend I was lugging Manet home with me. There are worse ways to spend your weekend than musing over Manet while you do the laundry.

"So I know him? It must be Agent Mulder." And I did know Agent Mulder, even before Walter brought him over to help him move my furniture. Back when we were still married, sometimes Walter talked about Mulder more than anything else at work. Sometimes Mulder was all he talked about. There's a fine line between admiration and frustration, and Mulder had him on that edge nearly every day. When I finally met Agent Mulder, things were really falling apart between Walter and me. I'm afraid I turned the poor man into my sounding board at one point, but I felt as if I knew him; I'd heard that much about him. I'd been glad that Walter and Mulder seemed to have gotten closer after the divorce; Walter's always been so non-social, and he really had needed a friend, I'd thought.

"Yeah, you got it. Do you mind?"

"Not at all. I like Agent Mulder." By this point, the maitre d' was processing us to our table grandly, everything but the trumpet voluntary. I wonder where they train maitre d's -- there's this attitude of superhuman superiority they all have that makes me wonder about them. We got ourselves seated, and I paged through the menu while hearing the specials announced as if God were delivering a personal message to us. Venison with green peppercorn and raspberry coulis sounded interesting. Walter surprised me and actually followed the martinis with salmon. I did con him into splitting a portobello mushroom appetizer with me first.

Walter actually had fish after a martini? Damn. I wasn't sure I was up for an evening of surprises. And that was the biggest surprise Walter Skinner had given me in years. Changing his routine? For Walter, changing routine was right up there with pulling teeth without novocaine, or wearing a sky-blue leisure suit with a gold chain and platform shoes, or letting one of his agents play games with the regulations.

But the venison was delicious, as was the Belgian endive with it, and Walter was in a really good mood, cheerfully describing how Agent Mulder and his partner had just tried reporting back to him, tripping over their own tongues and each other's, trying to explain about a giant monster plant that sucked blood through its main taproot and had adapted itself to kill humans and large animals to get its -- um -- water supply. And how Agent Scully, naturally, being of a scientific bent -- I think he really meant to say that she was female, and therefore more practical -- had rescued Agent Mulder from being the plant's bedtime snack by the simple expedient of unleashing an entire drum of "Die, Weed, Die" concentrate on the ground around it. So the water table right there was pretty badly polluted now, and the EPA was looking into it, but some University of Maryland botanists were ecstatic because the thing's little offshoot suckers hadn't all died immediately. They were feeding the baby plants some snake-feeder mice. Delicious.

"So, that's my vicarious excitement," he reported. "How about you? Is that crazy woman next door to you still complaining?"

"Yeah," I admitted, "she's telling the building manager that I have no business playing that awful music of mine and disturbing her. It seems that Donizetti and Verdi as sung by Kiri Te Kanawa interfere with her enjoyment of her classic Metallica and Twisted Sister CD's. Oh, and my Domingo "Carmen" *must* be played with headphones on, she says. The Habanera induces migraines and makes her pet iguana nervous."

"Do you want me to copy my old Dinah Washington albums for you?" he offered. "Those should push her right over the edge. I think that jazz vocals might send her directly to Saint Elizabeth's, and then you'd be rid of her."

I mused. "Maybe. I think that Ella or Sarah Vaughan might be even harder on her, though. I mean, a loop of 'Rubber Dolly' for an hour while I'm at work or out shopping would probably bring out the paramedics." The waiter cleared plates, and I ordered coffee. "Whatever drugs she's on, I want some."

He raised an eyebrow at that one. "You mean you didn't do enough dope at Northwestern to hold you?"

A giggle. One of the women I work with has a boyfriend who has a friend who knows someone who gets some very good stuff. But you don't tell your ex-husband the FBI Assistant Director that you still light up at your age when you're out visiting friends. "Whatever she's on has to be better than the weed I smoked in college. Come on, you guys smoked all the good Thai stick over in Nam. I was inhaling Lake Shore Drive window box weed back then."

He shuddered. "Yeah, and we were over there fighting for America's right to Asian dope. Now I coordinate joint efforts with the DEA to prevent people from getting any. Talk about a change in government policy." He grinned suddenly. "And I smoked the same homegrown shit you did when I got back. Remember how we met."

How could I forget it? A huge throng of U of Chicago and Northwestern grad students, a hot day out at the lake, enough beer to deplete Milwaukee, and an actual brawl breaking out because the weed was so bad. I was too close to the melee, and this big, strong guy in old fatigues with a plastic cup of beer in one hand came over and scooped me up with the other hand just before I nearly got hit. How romantic.

Time to change the subject, a trick you get good at when you and your ex get along. It keeps you from getting maudlin by accident and doing something you'll both regret. "Enough about my neighbor the leftover metalhead. What's going on with you outside of the attack of the vampire dandelions?"

"Nothing much." Oh, Walter. An outright lie; I could tell. He was flushing a little, and he had one of those teeny smiles where his mouth's closed and just the edges are turning up. The kind of smile he gets when he's trying to keep a straight face and it's not working.

"You lie, Walter. Spill."

"I -- I'll get around to it." He raised an arm, waved in the other direction, signaling. Within a minute, we had a visitor at the table, Agent Mulder. Who was looking tired, and just a little the worse for wear -- the "worked all evening on Friday after a long week" look. "I see you made it."

"Report's on your desk. I nearly brought it along, but I don't want to ruin dinner. Speaking of which --" he said, turning to me and extending a hand, "nice to see you, Ms. Milgrim." He's got a good memory; people who don't see much of me but know Walter still usually call me "Mrs. Skinner." "How was your dinner?"

"Delicious. And call me Sharon; I mean, you moved my cosmetics and lingerie, I think we have a personal relationship now. Sit."

"Thanks, Sharon." He slid into the seat to my left. The waiter swooped like a starving vulture, and Agent Mulder ordered a double Scotch on the rocks. He turned to Walter before the man could open his mouth. "And don't say anything when I order another, thank you. Scully nearly bit my head off before we finished the expense report."

Walter groaned. "Not another cell phone. Do I have to put a dummy cord on you, like mothers do with children's mittens?"

"Yes, another cell phone. And my light gray Hugo Boss suit, which will never survive the aviation fuel. Or the acid burns. And did I tell you what happened to my watch?" Lord, I was hearing instant replay; I could swear that Walter and I used to bicker just like this.

"That Omega?" Mulder nodded at him. "No, don't tell me. Don't ruin my dinner. I'll read it on Monday morning. At least tell me you didn't lose your gun."

"My gun's fine, Scully's shoes are fine, no green goo burns this time. And no hospital tab."

"This wasn't the blood sucking plant case, I take it?" I asked.

"It was not," Mulder replied with some dignity. "It was -- oh, jeez... another fucking mad chemist with a secret weapon." He looked at Walter. "Red hair. Practically underage. Pendrell junior."

"Thank God you stopped him," Walter replied with such sincerity that I knew he was being sarcastic. So did Mulder, who chuckled. "Drink up. I know how Scully gets when you fight over those vouchers. You need it."

"Thanks." Most of the Glenfiddich just served went into Mulder rapidly. "Don't worry, the General Tso's chicken will absorb it. We did eat before we started throwing our cartons at each other."

"I'm glad to hear it. You want dessert with that drink, or are you just going to catch up to the drunks at the bar?" Good thing that Mulder apparently understood Walter's sense of humor; we'd lost a few friends from time to time over his delivering lines like that. You just have to know that Walter's harmless, but most people let his size and his scowl get to them before they find out.

"I hate to ruin good Scotch by allowing the flavor of food to interfere with it. Let me get this in me and then I'll order. You two go ahead."

I went for fruit with a flavored custard sauce; Walter, left to his own devices, would probably have demanded a large hot fudge sundae, which of course wasn't on the dessert menu, but he voluntarily ordered a kiwi and orange sorbet in a shaped pizzele with fresh mint. One of those absolutely delicious desserts that you never eat except at a restaurant too fancy to eat at on a regular basis, and that you'd never think of eating if the restaurant hadn't made it and waved it in your face. Mulder ordered another Scotch and then decided to follow it with an orange-mocha torte with chocolate ganache. I'd looked at it myself, but it seemed too heavy to follow medallions of venison. The dessert conversation devolved, as such things often do, into a "that looks good, I wonder if I should have ordered that instead" orgy, which meant that we didn't get back to real conversation until the coffee.

"So, Agent Mulder, other than being attacked by mutant begonias and Baron Frankenstein, what's been happening with you lately?"

"Um, nothing much. Only it wasn't a begonia. It was a spider plant. With little baby spiders that wanted to grow up just like mommy."

I quivered; I admit it. I had spider plants in my window. "I think I'm getting rid of my plants tomorrow. So nothing's new? You still haven't met anyone?"

Oh, blushing. Good-looking men are so cute when they're embarrassed. Walter particularly, because it's such a switch to see him look sheepish. I wanted to coo at poor dear Agent Mulder. No, I've never been interested in Agent Mulder. He worked for Walter, and he's too young for me. I like my men a bit older than me these days. "Oh, you have? Wonderful! What's she do?"

Well, I could have anticipated the embarrassment he'd had a moment before, but I'd never have imagined the sort of curare-poisoned look of total paralysis that came over him all of a sudden. Then his jaw worked for a moment with no sound, and then he was down to being composed but pale. All in a few seconds. Whew. "Um."

Not a musing sort of "um,' but a rather emphatic "I have no words for this" kind of "um."

"Um." Again.

Then, leaning back in his chair, looking slightly irritated, turning towards Walter. "Walter. I thought..."

"You showed up just when I was getting to it."

Okay, whoa there... I hate those moments when you're obviously missing something, and no one's filling in your picture and you have to wonder and feel stupid. "I think I'm missing something here. Could you be any more confusing, please?"

Walter picked up the ball. "You were telling me I was lying when I said I didn't really have anything going on, and I told you I'd get back to you on it." He sighed. "I guess I'm getting back to you on it." He moved his right hand from his coffee cup, across the table corner, to Mulder's left hand for a second. Their eyes met. "Sorry, Fox. Bad timing."

It's a strange experience when you actually finally realize something that you just haven't been comprehending. You feel a fog in your head; then suddenly, you feel illumination pouring in, the fog lifts, and your head actually feels empty for a second while you process an incredible quantity of information at once. And you understand everything all of a sudden, but you find it impossible, for a few seconds, to actually find words that express what you've just figured out. In other words, I got the message. And it was perfectly clear but it wasn't registering. And the vocabulary -- I mean, I write for a living -- was down to "I -- uh -- Walter..."

Then the word usage faculties came back and I was thinking in words again as opposed to just "getting it." My husband -- all right, my ex-husband -- and his buddy there aren't just friends. Jesus, Walter's gay? Or whatever? When did that happen? And what did I miss while we were married? And is that why we quit having sex?

Yes, I know better than that. Than some of it, anyway. But really, when you're married to this macho ex-Marine for seventeen years... and you're sitting in a public place, and he's not just telling you he's into guys, which you can pretend you didn't hear, but he's there with the guy he's seeing, and he's looking at the other guy the way he looked at you back when you got married... you can't pretend you missed that. And you can't pretend you really understand it, because you don't.

And really, Fox Mulder -- I mean, Walter always talked a blue streak about him, as much as he ever talked about anything. And I'd spent my whole marriage being grateful that if he was cheating on me, he'd never thrown it in my face... and now I had to wonder if he hadn't been telling me something back then. That if he hadn't been seeing Mulder at the time, he'd certainly been thinking about it -- if he'd been talking that way about a female agent, yes, I'd have been incredibly suspicious then.

So I'm this enlightened middle-aged urban liberal arts professional with piles of gay friends, and citations for AIDS work and helping out at the pride festivals, and this is my ex-husband, on whom I haven't got one single claim, and the guy he's with is honestly one of the nicest men I know... and there I am, ready to blow. Fortunately, I got so worked up at everything that all I could vocalize was "Oh, good Lord, I don't believe it" before I slid back in my chair. "So that's why you wanted to have dinner."

Walter was already flagging the waiter. "Three brandies, please. No, make that cognac. Three Remys." Alcohol may not cure everything, but we both come from backgrounds that applied it to almost any problem. And this qualified. "Sharon, are you all right?"

"How do you want me to answer that? Don't ask me to tell you I'm not surprised. I'm totally shocked, all right? I mean, I figured we'd both start dating again, Walter, but after seventeen years living with you, can I say this is *not* what I expected to hear?"

"Okay, that's fair."

"Can I say that I'm flabbergasted? That I don't think I've ever had a clue about anything like this?"

"Look, I understand. This is not something Fox and I have been going around announcing. In fact, you're the first person we've told."

I guessed I should have been flattered. Walter still trusted me enough to talk to me about it; I'd spent most of our divorce being the one who spilled the personal matters to the other. He hadn't blinked at finding out about Paul; he'd let me have a good cry on his shoulder about it, even though it was pretty clear I'd been seeing Paul before the divorce went through. Looking back, a few days later, I realize I was probably the person with whom he was most comfortable testing the waters. He knew I was predisposed, or should have been predisposed, to accepting the news; most of the men I've known in my field are gay. But most of them are -- well, not ex-Marines. And not men I've slept with. Or lived with long enough to think I knew them well enough not to get any major surprises. I took a deep breath; I sort of knew the "guy you know comes out to you" rules. Even for Walter, maybe I should use them. "Okay, I appreciate that you trust me enough to share it with me." There, I'd applied one of the rules.

"Thanks, Sharon."

"Do you mind if I ask how long?" Not in the rules. But I wanted to know, damn it. I work with bi and gay men every day; how could I have missed something like that about my own husband? Had I ever heard him use any of the slang except when our friends had visited? Had I ever heard him slide into that indefinable vocal quality I always -- not always correctly --- spot as "gay male voice"? Had I ever seen him checking out any men? Watching the football players' butts when we went to the games? Shit, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for the deadly warning signs of stereotypes... only, so many of the men I know *do* fit the stereotype for some reason.

Walter and Mulder looked at each other, doing that thing men do when they're trying to decide something, that soundless "um, uh" bit, making the "maybe yes, maybe no" hand and shoulder movements. Mulder got out the first actual word. "I guess -- what, six months? But we started getting serious -- when?"

"Probably in April," Walter decided for them.

I relaxed a little. I still didn't quite believe it, because I just couldn't imagine about Walter... I would have thought I'd have noticed something... but maybe that was my deliberate blindness issue. I don't know. But I've usually got pretty decent radar -- in fact, the news about Mulder didn't surprise me at all; I'd sort of thought so back when I'd dumped on him during the divorce. I have so many gay friends, and Walter and I used to entertain my -- well, our -- friends back in Kansas City; the idea that Walter would have gay friends of his own would never have made me take notice.

"So this all happened after we got divorced?" Poor Agent Mulder, he actually flinched; he looked absolutely horrified. I might as well have suggested barbecuing children for dinner. I hadn't intended to sound as if I were accusing him of homewrecking, but I think that's how he took it. "I'm just trying to figure this out, Agent Mulder; I'm trying to make some sense of this in my head. I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm..."

"It's not congruent with your own experience or belief regarding Walter," he supplied helpfully. You can tell he studied psychology.

"Well, yeah, like you said." I nodded at him, reached weakly over for the cognac at my right. "If Walter were a jigsaw puzzle, I'd say this piece didn't fit into the picture. Am I making sense? I'm not homophobic, Agent Mulder. I'm an art historian, for Christ's sakes. I do AIDS work. Most of the men I know are gay. But this doesn't fit into anything I thought I knew about Walter. I don't have any expectations about you, but from the time I met him to now, I've had twenty-one years of expectations about my ex-husband."

"I'm here in the room, too," Walter groused.

"Yes, but I'm talking about you to Agent Mulder. I have to refer to you in the third person in order to do so." Discussing something as trite as grammar felt very comforting. Maybe because those rules hadn't changed on me all of a sudden. "I'm not ignoring you, I'm explaining myself to Agent Mulder. I'm in shock, so be nice. I'm sure I'll feel much better once he's finished validating my reality."

Can you tell I've been in therapy for seven years?

"I think you're having a perfectly normal reaction," Mulder told me. My ex-husband's lover and I were analyzing the reason for my being disconcerted at his just having come out to me, a minute before, in the middle of a restaurant. I was living in the second act of "Waiting for Godot". "I mean, it's a fact -- I *am* involved with him, so I think I should know... but it's completely new information to you. And clearly, you've never anticipated anything of the sort, and you would have every reason to think that you have verifiable experience to the contrary. So if I were you, I'd probably feel exactly the same way."

"Then you see why I'm upset."

"Perfectly. Don't even try to apologize for it. You'll feel much better if you let it out."

"I'd feel much better with another cognac. Do you mind, Walter?"

"I think we all need another one. And I think we should probably start this entire conversation again from the top."

"Please, no. Once is quite enough, and this is one of those discussions that never turns out the way it's supposed to, no matter what you do. I'm just going to need some time to work through this. And Walter... you used to tell me that if I'd had five minutes, I'd had enough time to think about something. Don't even try that with me about this."

Mulder looked right at me. "He did that to you, too? So he's always been that way at home?"

You know what? Some things never change. The stars really still might have been fixed in their courses. Whoever Walter was seeing, damn it, he really was still the same guy I'd married. Right down to his bad habits. "I could tell you stories..."

"And... Uh... Sharon... has he *always* snored like that?"

Oh, no. "Like a fucking bull elephant? My God, yes!" That did it; I had to laugh. I thought Walter was going to die, the way he looked. But you know, he'll never change. Walter, like the stars, the pyramids, the Swiss Guard at the Vatican, and my mother's meat loaf recipe, is a permanent institution. Even if he did order salmon at dinner.

* * *

I still don't quite get it about Walter, though I do feel somewhat better, I suppose. My friend Allen and his lover have been trying to reassure me, but it's only been a week. And those stories I mentioned... I guess I'll be telling a few to Agent Mulder today, because I'm meeting him for lunch. Lord knows if he's willing to take on Walter, he's going to need some help. I'd better give him Mother's meat loaf recipe.